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The First Marijuana Hearing Of The New Congress Has Been Scheduled

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Congressional Democrats are already moving ahead with plans to consider broad changes to federal marijuana laws in 2019.

Whereas the Republican-controlled House for the past several years had blocked votes on most cannabis-related measures, the chamber’s new Democratic majority on Wednesday announced it has scheduled a hearing for next week to examine the difficulties that marijuana businesses face in opening and maintaining bank accounts.

Titled, “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses,” the hearing will take place on February 13 before a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.

Although a growing number of states are moving to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use, cannabis remains federally prohibited. As a result, and despite a 2014 guidance memo released on the topic by the Obama administration aimed at clearing up the issue, many financial services providers remain reluctant to work with the industry out of fear of violating money laundering or drug laws.

“When we introduced this bill six years ago, we warned that forcing these businesses to deal in cash was threatening public safety. No hearing was given,” Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) said in an email, referring to marijuana banking legislation he and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) have filed for the past several Congresses.

He lamented that Republican leadership didn’t schedule a hearing on the proposal even after a security guard at a Colorado dispensary was killed during a robbery.

“Chairwoman Waters has made it one of her first priorities to address this urgent and overdue issue, demonstrating that she understands the threat to public safety and the need for Congress to act,” Heck said of the committee’s new leader. “We have a bipartisan proposal to allow well-regulated marijuana businesses to handle their money in a way that is safe and effective for law enforcement to track. I am eager to get to the work of refining it and passing it into law.”

That a hearing on the issue was in the works was first noted earlier this week by Politico, and Marijuana Moment reported that the full committee is also actively planning to vote on a marijuana banking bill in the coming months.

The newly scheduled marijuana hearing is a signal that Democrats intend to move cannabis legislation this year, and is likely to be the first in a series of committee-level actions across the House on the issue.

“The upcoming hearing presents a real opportunity for the Democratic Party to assert their leadership by finally beginning the conversation on how we end the failed policy of marijuana criminalization,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said.

While two limited medical cannabis research bills were able to advance out of House committees last year, they never made it to the floor for votes. Meanwhile, Republican leaders consistently prevented members from offering marijuana-related amendments—including ones on banking issues—to larger legislation.

In contrast, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) suggested in a memo to party leaders late last year that they pursue a step-by-step approach to legalize marijuana in 2019. His plan recommends that Financial Services and other committees first begin holding hearings on incremental reforms like banking access, research expansion and medical cannabis for military veterans before passing bills on those issues as part of a lead up to ultimately approving broader legislation to formally end federal marijuana prohibition by the end of the year.

A House bill to protect banks from being punished for working with state-legal marijuana businesses that Heck and Perlmutter introduced garnered 95 cosponsors in the last Congress, and 20 senators signed onto a companion bill, but neither were given hearings or brought up for votes.

“Depriving state-legal cannabis businesses of basic banking services and forcing them to operate entirely in cash presents a significant safety risk, not just to those businesses and their employees, but to the public,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an email. “Support for addressing the cannabis banking problem is strong and bipartisan, and it appears Congress may be ready to adopt a real, commonsense solution. Members concerned about public safety should be jumping at the chance to express their support for this legislation.”

Congress has held only a handful of hearings on marijuana reform issues in recent years, and never before has any come at a time when broad cannabis reform legislation seemed to be conceivably on its way to passage.

“This hearing is historic for cannabis policy reform advocates, business owners and the banking sector, and could directly lead to the first in what is hopefully a series of positive changes in the 2019 legislative cycle,” Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in an email. “Allowing banks to work with cannabis businesses more easily will benefit public safety, increase transparency, provide more financing options for small businesses and communities that have been targeted by prohibition, and help companies thrive so they can further displace the illicit market.”

Outside of the two committee markups of cannabis research legislation last year, which were not preceded by formal hearings on the relevant issues, Senate panels have on a few occasions held lengthy discussions on marijuana.

In 2013, for example, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing to dig into the fact that a growing number of states were legalizing marijuana in contrast with federal law.

The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, which is not a formal standing committee of the body, hosted a discussion on federal marijuana enforcement in 2016. Its two cochairs, Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have long been among Congress’s most vocal opponents of cannabis reform, though Feinstein began to shift her position last year.

Also in 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing on the risks and potential benefits of medical cannabis, but it did not lead to votes on any marijuana legislation.

Meanwhile, pressure to address cannabis banking has been growing. Several top Trump administration officials have indicated they support clarifying the issue.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for example, suggested in testimony before a House committee early last year that he supports letting marijuana businesses store their profits in banks.

“I assure you that we don’t want bags of cash,” he said. “We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe.”

In a separate hearing Mnuchin revealed that addressing the issue is at the “top of the list” of his concerns.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said that the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws “puts federally chartered banks in a very difficult situation… It would great if that could be clarified.”

And last month, Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting called on Congress to “act at the national level to legalize marijuana if they want those entities involved in that business to utilize the U.S. banking system.”

Meanwhile, although many major financial institutions are staying away from the cannabis industry, federal data does show that an inceasing number of banks are beginning to work with marijuana growers, sellers, processors and related businesses.

It hasn’t yet been announced who will be testifying at next week’s cannabis banking hearing before the Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions Subcommittee.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Florida Regulators Blast Oregon Hemp Products And Encourage Consumers To Buy Local In New Alert

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Florida regulators are calling out Oregon hemp businesses over products that they say contain rocks and sticks and have failed to meet regulatory guidelines on allowable THC content. Instead, consumers should buy local products made in Florida, officials say.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) recently released a consumer alert to warn Floridians about complaints it has received concerning poor quality hemp items from Oregon. Separate new guidance was issued on the cannabinoid delta-8 THC, a psychoactive compound that is increasingly being marketed and catching the attention of regulators.

“The department routinely finds violative products and conducts investigations based on consumer complaints,” FDACS said in the Oregon hemp warning. “Recently, the department has received several consumer complaints regarding shipments of hemp from Oregon.”

Those concerns are concentrated in three areas. The complaints have noted issues with Oregon hemp shipments for plants containing “rocks, sticks and other foreign material,” fraudulent certificates for laboratory analyses and items containing more than 0.3 percent THC, which is the allowable limit under federal statute.

“The department actively inspects for sanitary operating conditions and tests for label accuracy and contaminants unsafe for human consumption,” the notice states. “The department will continue to work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Oregon Department of Agriculture to contact firms in Oregon, notify consumers, and request remedial actions be taken.”

Regulators advised consumers to seek out products from businesses approved by USDA and to look for items that have a “Fresh From Florida” logo for quality assurance.

“Not only are you getting a product that is subject to Florida’s comprehensive seed to sale inspections, you’re also helping support Florida farmers,” the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) said.

Nikki Fried, who heads FDCAS as commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, has publicly stated that she’s a medical cannabis cardholder in the state—and she’s also running for governor. Prior to winning elected office, she previously lobbied on behalf of a plant farm that was later bought out by a major cannabis company.

Fried has made cannabis policy a priority throughout her tenure, and her agency has separately released new guidance on the marketing of delta-8 THC.

“The FDACS team is on the ground daily working to make sure the rules are being followed and that hemp extract products do not contain contaminants unsafe for human consumption,” it said. “Over the past year, the department has observed a growing interest in the sale of Delta-8-tetrahydrocannibinol (“Delta-8-THC”) and received numerous inquiries regarding its safety.”

It cautioned that the “until comprehensive, nationwide standards are adopted, consumers have no way of knowing what post-processing steps were taken to ensure the safety of these products” containing delta-8.

Colorado Governor Announces New Cannabis Business Office With Focus On Social Equity

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Marijuana Legalization Increases Home Property Values, New Study Finds

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There are plenty of marijuana NIMBYs out there, but a new study found that cannabis legalization and the presence of dispensaries actually increases home property values.

The research from Clever Real Estate draws on data from Zillow, the U.S. Census and other sources. A main takeaway is that from 2017 to 2019, “home values increased $6,338 more in states where marijuana is legal in some form, compared to states that haven’t legalized marijuana.”

Part of the reason for the increased value is that legalizing and regulating cannabis means tax revenue for states. And that revenue translates into “new investment in things such as public services and infrastructure,” the company found, driving up property value.

For every $1 million in additional tax revenue from marijuana sales, home values increase by $470, according to the study.

Take Illinois as a case in point. Last year, the state sold about $670 million in cannabis and took in $205.4 million in tax revenue. And that revenue has gone towards a wide range of causes such as supporting organizations that work to decrease street violence. If successful, reducing violence in a given community would be one simple way to increase property value.

The Clever Real Estate study also found that states that legalize for adult use see the greatest gains in home value.

“Between April 2017 and April 2021, property values rose $17,113 more in states where recreational marijuana is legal, compared to states where marijuana is illegal or limited to medicinal use,” it said. And for the states that have enacted legalization but where sales have yet to start, “home values are predicted to increase by an average of $61,343.”

The presence of cannabis dispensaries nearby also seems to be correlated with an increase in home value.

“Home values increased $22,090 more in cities with recreational dispensaries, compared to home values in cities where recreational marijuana is legal but dispensaries are not available,” the study says. “With each new dispensary a city adds, property values increase by $519.”

“When we controlled for other factors, we found that home values in areas that have legalized recreational marijuana leapt by $17,113 more than places where marijuana is illegal or only allowed for medicinal use. Even when we limited the comparison to recreational versus medicinal legalization, this disparity persisted. Places that legalize recreational marijuana saw home values increase by $15,129 more than those that only legalized medicinal use.”

Last year, a separate analysis from economists at the University of Oklahoma similarly found that states that legalize marijuana actually see a boost in housing prices, with the effect most pronounced once nearby retail outlets open for business.

“This demonstrates that [it is] not simply the benefits of increased tax revenue, but also the existence of the dispensaries themselves, that is driving the price increases,” the researchers found. “The dispensaries act as commercial amenities that the public puts a premium on being nearby.”

Missouri Marijuana Activists File Legalization Initiatives For 2022 As Other Groups Prepare Separate Measures

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Missouri Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Tax Deduction Bill

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The measure, if enacted, would not have changed the federal 280E provision that remains in effect against cannabis businesses.

By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) vetoed legislation Friday that would have lifted a prohibition on licensed medical marijuana companies deducting business expenses on their taxes.

In his letter vetoing the measure, Parson didn’t mention the medical marijuana provisions. He said his decision to reject the bill came down to a section lawmakers included that would have provided tax relief for businesses impacted by city-wide or county-wide public health restrictions.

Parson said those provisions would have created “significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities.”

In vetoing the bill, however, the medical marijuana provision was also struck down.

Missourians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2018. But under federal law, growing, transporting or selling marijuana remains a crime.

Because of this dynamic, marijuana companies differ from every other legal business in the state because they can’t deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses on their tax returns.

While federal law remains unchanged, the legislation approved nearly unanimously in both the House and Senate would have changed that for state taxes.

David Smith, a certified public accountant from St. Louis County who works with numerous medical marijuana companies, said during a Senate hearing earlier this year that Missouri’s existing law could mean an effective tax rate for those businesses of 70 percent or higher.

“Some companies may even be subject to income taxes while operating at a loss,” Smith said.

Andrew Mullins, executive director of MoCannTrade, said it was “both common sense and smart public policy to put medical cannabis businesses on a level playing field with all others that pay state business taxes.”

“While disappointed in the veto, we remain encouraged by the overwhelming bipartisan support for a measure of basic tax fairness that received near-unanimous votes in both the state House and Senate,” Mullins said in a statement to The Independent. “As our state’s newest industry continues to create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of millions in new spending each month, we look forward to again passing this policy change and seeing it signed into law.”

Another casualty of the veto was a provision providing sales tax exemptions for certain cancer treatment devices. Parson wrote in his veto letter that he supports this tax deduction and hopes lawmakers will pass it again next year.

This story was first published by Missouri Independent.

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